Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 414
Themes of "The Weir" include longing for the past, loss, and the truth of the supernatural.
Longing for the Past
When Jim, Jack, Finbar, and Brendan talk about the past, there's a strong sense of reminiscing for it. It's not that their present isn't good—it's just that the past is colored gold by their recollections of it. They start telling stories to impress Valerie, a woman who just moved to the area. But Jim, Jack, and Finbar's connection to each other shows how deep their desire to have the same feelings they had as children goes. Things are never the same once you're grown; you have a whole host of experiences and tragedies that color your perspective. Jack, for example, was too scared to leave with the girl he loved for Dublin and now has to live without her. He longs for the past he had with her even though it's long gone and not something that can be obtained again.
Each of the characters in the play has experienced significant loss. Finbar points out that his friends are bitter because only he escaped from the area where they grew up; he went to find success and they stayed there "picking their holes" in the bog. The sense of missed opportunities is strong throughout the play. The story of the other three men is in opposition to that of Brendan, who still has a chance to make a different life. He has to choose whether to sell The Weir or whether to continue to live there alone. He could lose the place that's been his touchstone but, at the same time, he's already experienced the loss of the people in his life who have left him there, isolated. Sometimes making a choice means there will be loss no matter what the choice is. Having one thing means losing another.
The supernatural elements in the story signify something that is haunting the characters. This is most clear in both Valerie's explanation of what happened to her daughter and what Jack says at the end of the play. Even though there is no ghost in his story, he's still haunted by what happens. The supernatural is really what people decide it is, after all. Things that make you feel fear or loss or hopeless. It doesn't have to be Ouija boards, like in Finbar's story. Things that haunt you can be choices you've made or things that happened to the people you love.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 539
The overriding themes of the play are the power of the past, both historic and personal, the fragility of life, and loneliness. The past is engaged in many ways, through references to aging parents, old or dead neighbors, past loves, and the vehicle of the ghost stories, several of which concern the faeries of Irish myth. By integrating references to the local faery lore, McPherson sets up a contrast between a romantic, pagan Ireland and contemporary life, yet also connects the faeries with the lost spirits and ghosts of the stories and to the haunted existences of Valerie and Jack.
The weir of the title—referring to a local dam built in 1951 to regulate water and generate power—functions as the major symbol in the play, linking the past and the changes of the twentieth century to the natural world, as well as providing a figurative barrier between the old world of folklore and contemporary life. The opening of the weir is a significant moment in the history of the region; Jack mentions that “when the weir was going up,” the mysterious knocking in the Nealon house, which had stopped after a priest’s blessing, returned, suggesting that the spirits objected to the weir. According to local legend, the faeries traveled the faery road to the beach to bathe, and thus the modern weir can be seen as a barrier between the past and present, and between tradition, modern pragmatism, and development. Traditionally, a weir is a fence made of sticks or wattles built across streams or rivers that trap fish and other animals by acting as a sieve, and Jack recalls how, when the modern weir went up, it gathered “a fierce load of dead birds all in the hedge.” While the traditional weir is essentially an agricultural tool, the modern weir controls water for power, and its effect on the natural world is pictured as fierce and absolute.
Valerie’s daughter’s death by drowning in a pool rather than in a natural body of water and Valerie’s fear that her daughter is somehow a lost spirit unable to find her way home, points as much to the unromantic reality of death and grief as it does to the idea of wandering faeries, ghosts, and spirits. Extending this to the theme of a romantic Irish past, McPherson has Brendan and Jack both clinging to habit and routine, wary of change but deeply isolated as well. Finbar teases them about staying “out on the bog’” in the country; they resist leaving the past as it is manifested through place. Brendan loves the view from the hill but later admits it is lonely. Jack, after confessing his poor treatment of a lover and his consequent loneliness, admits that there is not a morning that he does not wake up thinking of her. He quickly adds, “We’ll all be ghosts soon enough.” What began as a night of curiosity about checking out the new single woman in town has become a night of soul-searching and connection between isolated people that far outweighs any sexual concerns. The play becomes an exorcism of Jack’s lost soul through storytelling and provides a view of the fragile emotional balances people maintain.